Respecting the Dead

In current day, we are encouraged to write a will stating who receives things that were in our ownership and what they are so when we die no one must worry about it or fight over anything. However, if our name is not known and our body cannot be identified then the will becomes useless. Unidentified bodies are called either Jane Doe or John Doe (dependent on the person’s gender), to respect that they do have a name. There are certain ways in which we can respect the dead properly, yet there are so many instances of disrespect of the dead.

Mutato nominee means name change in Latin. In the book Bones by Marilyn Nelson, the skeleton/man that the story centers around was an African American male named Fortune. When he passed away his body was dissected and abused, as he never provided his consent. His name became lost after some time, and his skeleton later ended up in a museum where the man’s name, who they forgot used to be a man, was changed to Larry. Luckily for Fortune, someone took interest in this story and created a book based off of this skeleton and gave readers some insight into what had occurred and honored Fortune’s story in the process.

Another example of disrespect of the dead came from Zone One by Colson Whitehead, where there are both human characters and zombies. The zombies are somewhere between life and death so there is question as to whether or not it is moral for humans to kill them. Is it putting them out of their misery like we do to animals who are so sick that they have no chance of recovery?

In Zulus by Percival Everett, the main character, Alice Achitophel, broke free from her old fat body which was beheaded and emerged in a new body that she inhibited. Although she had changed bodies, she was still part of her old one and despite the fact that her old body was beheaded, she was still able to survive and inhabit her old brain. She would have times where her new body would shut down and she could focus on what was she was experiencing in her old head, similar to when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter would have moments where he experienced things from Voldemort’s perspective. Since Alice was unable to be killed in her old body, the abuse the rebels from the camp her old body was stuck in was even more tortuous and reminds us that we should think about what feelings a person would have when their body is opened and examined after their death. How can their body be treated in certain ways without their consent?

Henrietta Lack was an African American who died from cervical cancer and after her death, doctors extracted her cells without her consent and used them for medical research as the article Henrietta Lacks from the John’s Hopkins website describes. The extracted cells were labeled “HeLa” and the medical researchers discovered that, for the first time in history, “a human cell line was able to be reproduced in a laboratory setting.” After this discovery, the cells were used to help study many medical problems and help the researchers determine a cause and move towards finding cures. Additionally, questions of human immortality surfaced because of Henrietta’s reproducing cells.

In Home by Toni Morrison, a man was killed in a fight between him and his son that they had been forced into. The fight between the two of them ended with the father’s death and afterward his body was left uncared for. When the main characters of the book found out about this, they went to gather the bones and created a proper burial for the man so he could rest at peace, be remembered, and be respected. Since they did not know his name, the grave marker said, “Here Stands A Man.” (Morrison, 145). Another example of forgotten dead later recognized is in New York City. A large area that was an African burial ground was forgotten and the land was built on and covered as years past. According to the MAAP article on this historical burial ground, an estimated 10,000-20,000 bodies are buried in this hidden cemetery that extends beyond where the physical land dedication is. The land was forgotten about for years and then rediscovered when the area became a construction area for a new building project. When the first skeletons were discovered their remains were roughly treated and not properly cared for. After backlash from the public, those who were disrupting the remains were forced to do so more cautiously, but even then, the remains of each of these individuals was not respected. The national monument structure that was built at the site stands to represent and respect the dead. The center of the monument was built in a spiral shape with a circular globe in its center. The spiral around the globe has etched symbols in the walls in representation of different cultures, languages, and religions to honor all of the possible ways of respecting the dead underneath the site’s ground.

Another time in history when deceased bodies were disregarded was in the era of World War II when the Nazi’s became overwhelmingly powerful. According to A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust, in 1933 there were a few Nazi concentration camps that were running and at these camps the Nazis mass murdered the people they had imprisoned. Nazis would create mass burials for their murder victims. They would simply dig a very large hole and once they filled it with bodies, they would cover it and begin a new hole.

Respect for others should be given no matter what circumstances occur. Love or hate, power or not, life or death, everyone deserves some respect. But remember, dead people are still people. They lived a life and had thoughts and opinions to consider just like the living do.

The Circle of Life

Since the beginning of this class we have continually mentioned loops and cycles and applied them to what we have been learning. When this semester began, our professor asked us to bounce a ball against the wall and catch it in the rebound. The exercise came with unclear intentions at first, but after reading the class materials and reflecting, that exercise symbolized practice and reception and a continuous loop.

In Disney’s The Lion King, there is a famous song called The Circle of Life. This song encompasses the ideas of how life is a cycle. Humans, similar to animals, go through a life cycle: birth, childhood, schooling, jobs and career, retirement and death. During the years when a person’s focus is their career, they often get married, begin a family, and then later care for their elders. Throughout this lifetime humans also create their own habit cycles. The process of learning requires a loop of mistakes and reflection to allow forward progress. That loop is meant to ensure that the same mistake is not made repeatedly and that a person is able to move on and acquire knowledge. Unfortunately, sometimes one person’s progress is made at the expense of other people.

Each year we literally circle around the sun and each day our planet spins on its axis and provides us with a day and night. On our Earth, natural disasters occur destroying an area and allowing for its regrowth afterwards which strengthens the environment, allowing it to stay healthy.  Forest fires are a common example of this. The forest fires burn all the vegetation and afterwards plants begin to regrow, and the forest is eventually rebuilt. “Blood. The river of life.” (Everett, 21) is the idea that without destruction our earth would not function the same. Death often needs to occur for life to be appreciated.

Humans have created theories of Earth’s end and have been continually wrong, yet each time a theory failed a new one is created. This creates an everlasting cycle of trying to predict the future.

Home by Toni Morrison includes a scene where the main characters buried a man’s body at the base of a spilt tree. This symbolized the main characters becoming adults and beginning a new chapter in their lives. There are many ways to respect the dead through a funeral and burial based on cultural traditions. One type of funeral tradition is a New Orleans Jazz funeral where there is a period of mourning and after the burial the group parades around in celebration of that person’s life.

In class we learned about an African burial ground in Manhattan. Here there is a structure built in a spiral and when you walk down to the center there is a globe etched into the platform’s ground. This physical structure represents the cycle of life that occurs in our world.

In Zulus by Percival Everett, the main character, Alice Achitophel, breaks free from her old body and comes out in a new one as a symbol of a rebirth. Just like we are born to die, some people believe that when we die, we are reborn. Another idea of rebirth comes within your lifetime. You may find a way to cleanse yourself and move forward to become a better version of who you were. Creating a cycle of growth.

The Effects of Appearances

Race: a divide of power between people based on their beliefs or traits. Looks/appearances and the labels we place on people and groups affect how we view and treat them as well as their mental states. Throughout human history we have separated and categorized ourselves based on appearances. Someone always must run the top of the food chain, must lead the pack and carry all the power. The ability to lead has been chosen by ancestry and physical concepts such as wealth. The leader is the person decorated in certain attire which separates them from others.  

According to the Heng Inventions: Reinventions, Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages article by Geraldine Heng that we read in class, those who celebrated the Jewish traditions were made to wear badges identifying their religion during 1218-1275. Appearance was used to separate people based on their belief system and when these people were set apart, they were discriminated. The article called this act “Political imagery…”  (Heng, 2013). Skin color is another visual indication, representing ancestry, that people have specifically used as a social divider in United States history. Those with darker complexions were considered black and used as physical laborers while those with pale complexions were deemed white and took a role of power. In the Heng Inventions article, the word race is continually revisited. On page nineteen the article states, “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content.” Additionally, I thought that when race was again mentioned on page twenty that the idea of race and class relating was a good point. It reflects the idea that appearance can be used as a tool to group people and classify them, although, this is not an accurate depiction of people in most cases.

In Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler, the community is not based on appearance like most. It is typical for humans to label others based on appearances. Depending on where you reside on this globe your perspective on what outsiders and/or immigrants look like and your idea of beauty changes. Clothing can be used to indicate certain qualities about a person according to society. Cliques are a popular way for people to separate themselves based on appearances. Often, these small groups of people look and dress very similarly. The movie Mean Girls is an excellent representation of cliques.

Different cultures have different ideas about what constitutes beauty or acceptance. Some traditions merit wearing specific outfits for activities. For example, Native American groups still wear traditional outfits when performing a traditional dance during ritual ceremonies. Tribes from rainforest regions are another group that look similar but, can be identified within the larger groups based on their appearances. Another example of society valuing conformity is the military who are forced to wear the same outfits and cut their hair into the same style. Convicts also are forced to wear the same jumpsuit outfits. Firemen, police officers, EMT, doctors and nurses all wear the same outfits as well. There are so many examples of these similarities in dress within groups that can be spotted in our daily lives. Sometimes certain clothing items and accessories are indicators of wealth and power.

Our government is predominantly white males. Our nation tries to represent diversity within the government but is still largely run by old white males. Looking back on the Presidential history of the United States it is obvious.

The effects of these labels could be negative or positive. Negatively, groups could be excluded, harmed, or ridiculed. Conversely, they could also be honored or viewed as role models. Labels can also affect how a person thinks of themselves and will most likely change their behaviors overtime to accommodate the label. For example, if a person was called the class clown they may begin to believe the label and become more confident in making jokes around their classmates. However, if someone was to be called fat repetitively that could also impact their self-image or mental health and drive them into having an eating disorder.

Appearance is surface level, but an individual’s character is beneath the surface. Characteristics and personality make someone who they are not what color their skin is, what religion they celebrate, or what clothing they wear.

How voluntary is community?

Each individual on earth is a part of least one community in some way. Typically, when we use the word community, we associate it with a positive connotation, however, there are many different types of communities and ways in which they are formed. All around the world there are communities of action, circumstance, interest, location, practices, and there are hybrid communities that combine some of these. Not all communities are good and not all are bad. So the question is: How voluntary is community?

You, reader, live in a community formed by living proximity and legal boarders giving you a connection between yourself and your neighbors and all the people that fall under the legislation of a particular area of residence. Other common examples of communities are those of a certain school district formed by boarders and taxes, college communities that are formed by the people who aren’t accepted, work communities which are formed by a group of people working under the same boss, and religious communities formed by people who have very similar religious beliefs. Communities can form around the smallest aspects of life that people share as well as the biggest like living under the same government.

Although positive communities are the first people tend to remember, the negative ones are just as impactful. One example of a negative community in history was the Holocaust where a community of Nazis were formed by Hitler’s followers. This group was able to control other people and harm them due to the power of their community. Any groups of combat fighters getting into a dispute causing a war could be considered negative or positive communities depending on which side the person forming such an opinion is favoring.

In the books we are studying in class each book has at least one example of a community within it. In Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler there are communities called enclaves where a group of people infected with the same disease live and there are also groups of biker gangs that travel around the desert creating crimes. In Zulus by Percival Everett, the city is a forced living community where everyone has to live and work unless they find some way to escape. If they do escape from the city they may run to one of the rebel camps where they have to be accepted into the community that these runaways have built. Religious communities, such as a church, most often create more tight knit groups of people, like in Home by Toni Morrison where the reader gets a taste of this reliance on others when the character Frank Money shows up to the church to receive help and enough money to try and put him into a somewhat better situation. Also, in the book, diversity leading to separation is very relevant. Different skin colors and different income levels affected the characters living situation where they lived in a community consisting of lower-class African Americans who were close to the low-income earning job of working in a field that most of them spend their time doing. Furthermore, the treatment they received from their surrounding communities affected their lives. Another community within Home was Frank’s army group who all resided together, followed the same orders, and worked as a group with the same goal in common; beat the enemy and stay alive.

Every person who is involved in multiple communities throughout their lives receives the effects of them whether they are positive of negative. Community can be voluntary, however, most of the communities are not necessarily a choice but rather a societal placement/label. Reflect upon what communities you are a part of, if you chose them or not, and how they effect your life as well as others.

Doctors vs. Society

Throughout history there has been an ongoing conflict in societal views about the medical field. Doctors are well loved and recognized in communities, but they’re also feared. Why is this so? How can there be two so very opposing views? Throughout history the workers of medical field have researched, studied, and discovered lots of diseases and many cures to them, but the processes by which they were able to do so was not always morally acceptable.

Informed consent: “subjects must be aware that they are participating, must be informed, must consent, and must be allowed to weigh the possible risks and benefits.” (Washington, 7). Informed consent must be properly given when an experiment takes place for it to be considered morally correct. Without consent, many problems arise; documentation lacks patient information in respect to their identity, cover ups/lies are used, patients are mistreated, and conflict arises. When these problems arise, a tension is created between a doctor and their patients.

There has been evidence of doctor’s using different wording in order to make a treatment sound more appealing to their patients. One example of this can be found in Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington where doctors injected their patients with a so called “product,” which was a plethora of radioactive elements. The side effects of this treatment were harsh and harmful. Additionally, there was a lack of consent since doctors deceived patients by letting them believe that they were being helped rather than harmed, “in the syphilis study of Tuskegee, the victims thought their doctors were caring for them,” (Washington, 219). In this study, doctors cared for healthy patients by treating them as though they had syphilis while neglecting to properly treat the patients that were infected with syphilis. Furthermore, they were exposing the healthy patients to the disease by placing them in similar quarters where they could encounter those who were carriers of Syphilis. Home by Toni Morrison includes yet another example of doctors harming patients. One of the characters named Cee was working for a doctor without knowing what he actually did to his patients and then she was drugged and became the victim herself.

Improperly documented patient information was yet another problem that caused concerns about the medical community. In Medical Apartheid, Eileen Welsome attempts to get information of people who fell victim to mistreatment from doctors but struggles to find specific information and identities of the patients. Additionally, In Bones by Marilyn Nelson, the skeleton the book centers around had their identity “changed” multiple times and the person’s story was altered. Overall, there are many examples backing up why people have reason to be skeptical of the medical field and how they personally get treated by those who are supposed to help them. In Zulus by Percival Everett, the main character Alice refuses to follow the procedures of getting sterilized and the procedure to check on her pregnancy. However, she ends up receiving the pregnancy check against her will so her consent was violated. Another example is when in Home by Toni Morrison, African Americans in the community, where the main characters live, have a general fear of doctors and hospitals due to the bad experiences people have had with the medical field and have shared with others they care about as a warning. One of the characters, Cee, ignored the advice that was given to her and went to work for a doctor which seemed fine at first but then the doctor began to take advantage of her and experiment on her without her knowledge. She found other explanations for the side effects but after some time realized what was occurring but was left too weak to escape. Luckily, her brother came to her rescue. She learned the hard way not to trust doctor’s in that time period because they mistreated her due to her race and gender. Once again, in Medical Apartheid by Washington, the families of those who have fallen victim under the eye/hand of a doctor acquire a great mistrust for doctors as they continue throughout their lives.

This morning I was watching a show on Hulu called the Good Doctor and in the first episode there is a scene where the doctors are discussing how one of their patients needs surgery but they unable to proceed with it until he has signed the documents giving his informed consent. One of them wanted to have the man see a psychologist to become mentally prepared before going over the procedure and obtaining the signed documents however, her boss wanted it done right away. He did not care so much for the mental state of that patient even though it has been proven that with a better mindset, patients see better results. The boss just wanted the papers signed and viewed them as being more of a hassle than anything else. This television scene reminded me that even when these things are put into place, the person giving their informed consent should be in a mental position to fully understand what they are consenting to and what they are doing so. Doctor’s should not disrespect this process because at the end of the day, if their job is to help people then they should care about those in which they are trying to help and not just turn consent into another routine procedure. These procedures and paperwork are put in place for a reason, they’re not meant to be some obstacle that impedes a doctor’s ability to properly treat their patients.

In conclusion, the divide between past and present, hero and villain, and victim and victimizer have become complicated overtime and morphed into the views that are now collectively shared within our society. Doctors may be viewed differently by each person, but either way they still play an important role in our communities.

Sensory Enhancement

What would the world we know be like if we experienced it without our senses? Nothing to hear or see, no smells to make our mouth water, unable to experience the thrills touch brings us, and food becoming tasteless. With this being said, it is understandable why the best most effective texts often incorporate vast and effective amounts of sensory into their descriptions. Sight allows us to visually understand our surroundings, express ourselves through objects and actions we are able to experience due to our eyes. Sound allows us to experience music, language, the sounds coming from our environment. Touch allows us to feel things and complete everyday tasks. Taste gives us motivation to eat certain foods. Smell fills our nostrils with the good and bad odors that surround us. All of these senses enhance our everyday lives. What’s also amazing about humans is that when one sense is taken away the others become keener. When the use of sensory words is applied the descriptions are enhanced and the meaning of the book can be more clearly understood in many cases.

 Using the texts I have studied during my time in this English class, I have complied a list of ways these senses have enhanced the meanings of the novels we have read. In Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler, there was a disease that each member of an enclave had contracted and continued to spread. When the disease began to take over parts of their brain, there senses were stimulated and enhanced. This sensory enhancement was an important part of the book when it came to how the infected were feeling especially in comparison with the uninfected humans they were surrounded by. One of the characters informed another; “We read body language. We see things you wouldn’t even notice- things we didn’t notice before” (Butler, 486). In addition to enhanced sight with the ability to more quickly recognize body language and the meaning behind it as well as see clearly in the dark, the infected could hear much more keenly, and smell things humans would never even consider to have a specific smell like when a woman is at the stage of the month where she is most fertile. Their sense of smell also allowed them to distinguish who else was contaminated with the disease and what stage they were in, and who was uninfected. Their taste preferences also morphed in such a way that raw meat became desirable and the amount that they ate increased tenfold. The children that the infected population produced had senses even keener than their parents. The kids were more animal like in their features and have what we seem to consider more animal instincts and senses. Their hearing, sight, smell, and tastes gave them more animal like abilities. By explaining all of these sensory changes in the text it allowed the reader to have a better understanding of what the infected population was experiencing which in turn enhanced the overall effectiveness of the text in being able to rely certain themes and messages. In another book, Home by Toni Morrison, the main character, Frank Money, had been affected by his past traumas in such a way that in times of stress would alter his vision. His vision would go from vibrant and colorful then turn into a black and white scenery. In one scene when this happened to Frank, he was “just sitting next to a brightly dressed woman. Her flowered skirt was a world’s worth of color, her blouse a loud red. Frank watched the flowers at the hem of her skirt blackening and her red blouse draining of color until it was white as milk,” and the world became devoid of color (Morrison, 23). Then later, when the world had become black and white through his vision, “whatever the world’s palette, his shame and its fury exploded,” meaning that all the color reentered into his world (Morrison, 24).

The book Zulus by Percival Everett was heavily filled with descriptive language. One reoccurring theme I noticed throughout the novel was the importance placed on the color white and how the color was altered and effected depending on the situations. The white was described inside and outside of buildings and even to aid in explaining the feelings of emotions. The main character, Alice, describes a scene where the a building was “sickly white and clear, reflecting the sky’s hue” which was pink in color, meaning that the building had been painted white but was tinted with the pink from the sky, no longer pure (Everett, 143). This being said, it seems that most of the buildings looked this way in the tinted world. At one point Alice discovered “the one white building looked white” (Everett, 81). Later in the story, Alice was captured and beheaded by a woman running a rebel community named Rema. When Alice was exposed to what was called the Body room Alice noticed that “the white wall behind Body-woman Rima seeming more than white” (Everett, 105). The novel also uses the color white to aid in expressing Alice’s emotions. Fear and pain are described as “[flashing] white through Alice,” a few times in the book (Everett, 176).

Without our senses life would be dull just like books without descriptive words using senses would be much less enjoyable. The tastes, smells, sights and colors, feelings, and sounds of the world change our perspective. They change our experiences. They make the world better.

Reacting to Run-aways

Throughout literature and history in general, we learn as students that when something bad occurs one of the human reactions is fight or flight, so often we see one of these reactions when presented with stories of runaways. Cee, a character from Home by Toni Morrison, was medically abused by her employer and her brother helped her escape. When she escaped: “Sarah and the doctor stood locked in an undecipherable stare. As Frank passed around them with his motionless burden, Dr. Beau cast him a look of anger-shaded relief” (Home, 112). The lack of reaction from the doctor surprised me when I read this, so I kept going in search of this response. The book goes on, “Once Frank had fumbled and eased his way through the front door and reached the sidewalk, he turned to glance back at the house and saw Sarah standing in the door, shadowed by the dogwood blossoms. She waved. Good-bye – to him and Cee or perhaps to her job” (Home, 112). The doctor practically allows the two to simply walk out the door. Cee was his medical experiment and his reaction to her leaving seems only to be disappointment that he must now find another test subject. The same lack of reaction can be discovered in Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington where Cade, an experimental subject for doctors testing the effects of radioactive elements on human bodies, also escaped with a lack of reaction from those condemning him. “Cade slipped away. One morning the nurse opened his door, and he was gone. Morgan recalled, ‘They were surprised that a black man who had been expected to die got up and walked out of the hospital and disappeared.’ They were also disappointed” (Medical Apartheid, 217). In both Medical Apartheid and Home, the only reaction is disappointment. The captors do not chase after them, trying to hold them for experimentation even longer. After noticing the lack of response, I expected would be appropriate, I questioned the motives behind the experimenters, their thoughts on their subjects, and what affects the disappearance of their subjects had on their experiments. Furthermore, in Zulus by Percival Everett, the main character Alice Achitophel escapes the city in which she is kept and no there are no attempts to catch or prevent her. She later runs away from the rebel camp she spent time living in and returns to the city. The only difference between her two escapes were the reactions coming from the bodies of people residing in the place she left. The city did not seem to particularly care that Alice Achitophel disappeared. However, when she left the rebel camp they searched after her with torches in an attempt to find, capture, and kill her. This seems to represent the type of reaction I expected when reading about the escapees. Personally, I believe that the response of disappointment in the other situations was due to the dehumanization of the person. The victim or subject turned into a number or statistic in the mind of those in which they were escaping from, which seems to be an unfortunate theme in the books we have studied in class.

Reading Insightfully

Based on my experience in class over the past three weeks, I have discovered a few things about myself, my peers, and my classwork as it applies to my life. First, I have noticed that my reading fluency and comprehension varies from text to text. For example, Fortune’s Bones has a text laid out simply which allows me to quickly read through it but also allows me to go into depth more quickly. On the other hand, the Medical Apartheid takes me longer to read through and understand and I rely more on the class dissections to help me more fully developed my ideas that strap down the text and help us understand the book more thoroughly. Another self-discovery I have stumbled upon is that technology often hurts me more than helping me which is my fault alone. In order to better myself and allow this to happen less in the future, I must learn how to better use tools like the blog site on which I am posting this, as well as Canvas which holds all the information I need to help myself succeed in my classes. Second, I have learned that my peers all learn differently due to their different personalities, background experience, and knowledge of literature which creates our classroom dynamic. After thinking about this I realized that during class I need to be more assertive in my ideas, which still respecting and considering the perspectives of my classmates as well. During class discussions, it has been evident who has and has not read and analyzed the assigned text that we are set to discuss. I have accidently done this twice with readings that were assigned on canvas and I failed to discover. When there is a lack of knowledge going into the group discussion it is almost impossible to possibly contribute to the conversations when you have nothing to reference, no points to make, a lack of insightful questions to ask, and a lack of background information. Third, through the work I have analyzed for class, I have been able to find reflection. In Fortune’s Bones for example, on page 27, I found a few sentences that not only applied to the text and helped future my understand of the authors intentions but lead me to relate the book to our culture as it applies today. As an example, “What’s essential about you is what can’t be owned,” has provided me with so much insight and has been a line that has continually been stuck in my mind (Fortune’s Bones, page 27). The sentence reflects on the idea that a body is not all a person is. What makes each individual truly themselves, what no one else can control, is their personality, opinions, and choices. “You can own someone’s body, but the soul runs free,” (Fortune’s Bones, Page 27). This idea applies to the books we have been studying in which medical experimenters have destroyed the bodies of human beings both dead and alive, disrespecting their humanity. The idea of this quote reminds us that we are more than our bodies. Our body represents us, but the most important things cannot be physically destroyed. We still own ourselves to some extent. This idea can apply to today’s society relating to how we see so many conflicts arise based on physical differences, and the quote reaffirms that a person should not be labeled by that specifically. “What’s essential in you is your longing to raise your itty-bitty voice in the cosmic praise,” also comes from Fortune’s Bones page 27 and is very relevant in today’s society as well as the time period in which we are studying. So overall, the learning I have been doing so far in this class has room for improvement in areas but has also given me a lot of insight and allowed me into deep thinking relating all the things we are learning to the present day.